Monday, May 28, 2007

Plunge in CD Sales Shakes Up Big Labels

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They STILL don't get it. They can't figure it out! They must be sleeping! The masterminds of the recording industry continue to fail to understand why music isn't selling like it used to. From the New York Times' JEFF LEEDS (May 28):
"Despite costly efforts to build buzz around new talent and thwart piracy, CD sales have plunged more than 20 percent this year, far outweighing any gains made by digital sales at iTunes and similar services. Aram Sinnreich, a media industry consultant at Radar Research in Los Angeles, said the CD format, introduced in the United States 24 years ago, is in its death throes... Even as the industry tries to branch out, though, there is no promise of an answer to a potentially more profound predicament: a creative drought and a corresponding lack of artists who ignite consumers’ interest in buying music. Sales of rap, which had provided the industry with a lifeboat in recent years, fell far more than the overall market last year with a drop of almost 21 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (And the marquee star 50 Cent just delayed his forthcoming album, “Curtis.”)"
But hold for a minute: there is at least one recording artist who DOES get it: Beatle Paul McCartney! (from the same NYT article:)
" Paul McCartney, is releasing a new album on June 5. But Mr. McCartney is not betting on the traditional record-label methods: He elected to sidestep EMI, his longtime home, and release the album through a new arrangement with Starbucks.... Starbucks will be selling his album “Memory Almost Full” through regular music retail shops but will also be playing it repeatedly in thousands of its coffee shops in more than two dozen countries on the day of release. And the first music video from the new album had it premiere on YouTube. Mr. McCartney, in announcing his deal with Starbucks, described his rationale simply: “It’s a new world.”"
Now, if you are curious about "Mr. McCartney" and the Beatles, your must-read article is "Yeah Yeah Yeah"

Another artist who suddenly finds hereself in a precarious poistion: Kelly Clarkson.

For the benefit of those who missed my initial post explaining what's going on with the music industry, here is "Yo Homies" in its entirety:

This post is dedicated to those critics, commentators, columnists, social observers and bloggers who "can't explain" why rap music took over in the mainstream. It's so simple. But these supposedly smart individuals still don't get it.

Rap and HipHop have been around for a long time, since Napoleon XIV rapped "They're Coming To Take Me Away" in the mid-1960s, and hit #1 in very late 1970s with Blondie's "RAPture." CD sales have been declining since 2001, which peaked at $701 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan’s State of the Industry Report.

If you could dial your radios back to 1999-2002, you would be amazed at the spectrum of popular music (last night I listened to some old off-the-radio cassettes). Artists were evolving, music genres were evolving, production techniques were down to a science. Some of the so-called "R&B" (Rhythm & Blues) material from that time is astounding in vocal, technical and musical quality.[3] Rap and HipHop were there, in the outer sphere.

The "erosion" began in late 1999, when much of the music-buying public, dissatisfied with the high-cost low-quality mass-produced CD's [1], discovered it was possible to DOWNLOAD music off the Net. And why not? There was no big loss of quality, that's for sure. Because of the economy and culture of the time, the people representing the higher-end of the record buying public suddenly stopped buying. [2] Next the middle, and (as more people upgraded computers and switched to broadband) to a lesser extent the lower middle. At the bottom were the working poor and the inner-city buyers, who kept on buying what they always bought: Rap, HipHop, Country... are you beginning to get the picture?

FF to 2007. This is where it gets interesting. Right now, that "bottom" is rapidly equipping with mp3 players, iPods, computers and fast Net connections. You may have seen or heard that the music industry is "declining." Music sales are down overall, but rap sales dropped 21 percent from 2005 to 2006, according to the Associated Press. Additionally, for the first time in 12 years, no rap album was among the top 10 sellers of the year. Top that with the burst of public outcry against XXX lyrics in rap music [4] after the Don Imus thing (dirty rap was the top-seller in the CD industry) and suddenly the CD-makers are "down for the count." Good for them!

Your LIFE LESSON here is obviously about CORPORATE GREED. The CD coulda shoulda woulda been a wonderful medium in which to experience music, that could have still made money for the big boys if it were fairly priced. If Vinyl was $9.99 at the time, the CD should have been $5.55, because, remember, the little dinky disks in little plastic cases cost way way less to manufacture and SHIP. Yup. LP's were way heavier and bulkier. It all came down to the almighty dollar!

The CDs being made in 2006-7 are of much higher quality: listen to recent works by Madonna or Freshly Ground or The Veronicas and you will hear some amazing stereo seperation and technical production. But is it now too little, too late for the CD industry?

[1] if you heard a song on the radio in 1999, it was an enhanced version on a high-quality CD single, sparkling with life and stereo. Ear Candy! The mass produced version on the CD for sale sounded like it was being played in a tin can by comparison, with the highs and lows cut off, leaving a "squashed" listening experience. Let me put it this way: it would have been more pleasurable to listen to a good song on an old AM radio rather than on a 2000-era stereo CD. CD's should have been much cheaper at the retail level. The manufacturers tried to make us pay more money for a product that cost them a quarter of what a vinyl 33 LP with cover art would have cost to manufacture. The death of "cover art" may have also contributed to pop music's sales decline, but that's a story for another day.

[2] A friend and I kept hearing a fantastic song on the radio. We both purchase the CD. Reactions were the same. WTF? This doesn't sound as good as the same song on the radio! I looked at an actual copy of the CD sent to the radio station. It was clearly marked "enhanced CD, specially mixed for stereo FM radio."

[3] One of the most marvelous listening experiences for pop music audiophiles; Jade Anderson's Sugar High. I believe the "high tech" version is only available on the DVD single (pictured above) --- you'll have to search Amazon or eBay IF you can still find it! There are also some astounding "enhanced" CD singles by Shakira (look for ones advertised as advance or promo copies!)

[4] Michael Byrd, a sophomore business management major at Dillard, gives Black College Wire his own theory about why rap sales have declined. "There are a multitude of reasons; CDs cost too much, it's free to download, and nobody has any real talent outside of Jay Z, Nas, T.I. and other people of their caliber," he said.

"Nobody is willing to put money behind an artist who is not talking about sex because they don't want to risk losing money. . . . For the most part, rappers do what they are told. They have no influence; all they do is perform. Most don't even write their own songs or get paid much," he said.

AMEN! No talent and no pay: many of the "rappers" are patsys for corporations: common thugs that have been dressed up in gold and videod with scantily-clad women who have big breasts and horses' asses for rear ends! Again the bottom line: the almighty dollar!

Meanwhile, the "Big Brother Economy" continues to grow. Up next for Uncle Sam's oversight: Placing restrictions on the sale of used music CDs. Yes, you read that right.The goal of this legislation, which is popping up in various states around the union and not (yet) on a federal scale, is designed to stem the alleged flood of counterfeit music CDs as well as stolen discs. The rules, currently in effect in Florida and Utah and coming soon to Wisconsin and Rhode Island, stipulate waiting periods (the store can't resell used discs for 30 days in Florida) and/or that stores can only provide store credit, not cash, for used discs (Florida again). Some states even require you to be fingerprinted to sell your old music. [more from Christopher Null on yahoo! Tech]

See Also: The Album, A Commodity In Disfavor.

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